Skip Navigation Celebrating America's Women Physicians
Changing the face of Medicine Home Physicians
Resources Activities



Dr. Michelle Anne Bholat

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1958

Medical School

University of California, Irvine, College of Medicine



Career Path

General medicine: Family
Dr. Michelle Anne Bholat


Dr. Michelle Bholat is the first Latina appointed to the position of vice chair of the Department of Family Medicine at The David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles.


As a little girl, my grandmother told me the story of my aunt Maria, who died of renal failure at the age of nine. During Maria's thirty plus-day hospitalization, fourteen of those days were without her parents and siblings as they were quarantined. After the quarantine, my grandparents were limited to brief glimpses of their dying child. Hospitals during the 1930's did not encourage family participation in the care of the sick and dying. Following Maria's death, my grandfather developed a stutter. The burden of his daughter's death was magnified by the guilt of his illiteracy and poverty.

Growing up, every year near my aunt's birthday, I would ask my grandmother to tell me about the events leading to my aunt's death. Each time—unsolicited—my grandmother never failed to mention the honesty, kindness and sincerity of the doctor who told her that her child would die; the compassion of the nurse whose brother had died of the same disease and of her close friend and "comadre" who fed her children while she was away at the hospital.

In retrospect, this experience was the genesis of my desire to perceive medicine in the broader context of community, family, politics, and medicine. I am a doctor today because I believe that basic health care is a right. I understood very early that medicine does not always cure but compassion can be healing. Each time I attend to a dying person, who may or may not have a family or friend at his or her side, I am reminded that "being in the moment" is a privilege earned.


Michelle Anne Bholat, M.D., believes that basic health care is a right, and that where medicine cannot cure, compassion can help and heal. As a general practitioner and the vice chair of family medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, she cares for patients in some of their most trying times, and is teaching medical students how to do the same—with skill and sensitivity, and a recognition of their role as confidantes as well as carers.

Michelle Bholat was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1958, and learned at a very young age that her aunt had died in hospital at the age of 9, separated from her family and not allowed to have visitors. As she heard the story again over the years, Bholat began to understand medicine in the context of family and community, and the privileged role physicians have in the lives of others. Anxious to begin her own family and a new phase in her life, she left junior high school to become a young mother.

At the age of 29, Bholat enrolled at California State University, where she majored in the biological sciences. After graduating in 1987, she began her medical training at the University of California, Irvine. Graduating with her M.D. degree in 1992 she then completed a residency in family medicine at Harbor/University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center and was appointed chief resident in 1994. From 1995 to 1996 she was a fellow in the department, and from 1996 to 1997 she was also medical director of the Wilmington Family Health Center. In 1997, Dr. Bholat graduated with an M.P.H. in health care policy and administration, from the University of California, Los Angeles, and was appointed visiting assistant professor of family medicine at the university. In 1999, she was appointed vice chair and chief of clinical operations, making her the first Latina to hold the position of vice chair.

In 1999, Dr. Bholat received the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services Recognition of Service Award for "Excellent Leadership and Tremendous Dedication to Our Community and Patients." She has served on a wide range of committees and is a member of the National Hispanic Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the American Academy of Family Physicians. As well as several large research grants, in 2001 she also received a fellowship from the National Hispanic Medical Association.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

Overcoming fear! As an example, if a child is exposed to drugs and violence, they often suffer in silence and become anxious and fearful. Fear motivated me to develop courage and to move outside my environment. From an adolescent perspective, becoming a very young mother was the most direct plan that I could employ to move on with my life. So, at that time, I opted to leave junior high school. Although there were many obstacles that I had to overcome to successfully matriculate to medical school, I held on to my dream to become a physician.

How do I make a difference?

I recruit physicians from disadvantaged backgrounds who are dedicated to continuous learning and interested in serving those who lack basic health care. In addition, I am interested in collaborating with countries such as Mexico to train Mexican physicians to work within the border states, while we send American physicians there to provide continuing medical education. I understand the importance of considering patients within the context of their language and culture. This continues to be of great importance in medicine as our nation's ethnic groups continue to grow. I am the first Latina vice chair of the Department of Family Medicine at The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. I bring a non-traditional academic perspective to the colleagues, medical students, residents, and staff with whom I interact.

Who was my mentor?

I was fortunate to have worked with several mentors over the years. I learned that wisdom is a gift that is shared by those who listen.

Photo Gallery